The role of museums has conventionally revolved around exploring, gathering, conserving, researching, and displaying objects. In the last three decades, there has been much emphasis on exhibitions, interpretation, and education. Also, the number of museums has tremendously increased within this period. Still on, displays are being constructed, especially around objects, which make material culture an integral part in museum historiography.
Historical works being consumed in museums are seen as ‘’public history’’, instead of the history that is presented within the school environment. Irrespective the vast expansion of museums although the last century, historians have rather chose to research in the library, instead of in the museum environment.
Just recently, historians are becoming more occupied by objects because the introduction of new technology has orchestrated collections to be accessed via the internet. With this also, these historians have effectively carried out sporadic development of museum galleries. This means that the evolution of museums and the gathering of objects and artifacts has been a serious area of focus.
Following this development, any discussion which is centered on museum historiography needs to start with the English Museum, which means that the history of England is quite challenging to comprehend. It cannot be compared to a National Museum; instead, it is like the National Scotland Museum, which emphasizes on the story behind Scotland, its people, land, and culture. Nevertheless, the discussions on museum historiography are always accompanied by displays that are contextualized in entire Europe.
Other historical museums in England have also joined forces in offering historical context to our contemporary times, and this includes the National Portrait Gallery, which emphasizes more on history rather than the usual art.
Famous curators and academicians who are in the forefront of the latter display, when they championed the change in the concept and meaning of the galleries in the 90s, encountered a problematic relationship with the study of history, and especially British history. They went into understanding the concept and meaning of ‘’British’’ for a post-colonial period and soon birthed a new idea in considering the art objects found in the museum in two categories of consumption and production.
Other museums like the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum have had to reorganize its previous stories as it relates to war, kingdom, or exploration.
Just recently, the British Museum has been recognized as a museum of the world in the twenty-first century. The reason for this feat is that its collections come from different parts of the world and they are meant to be used by peoples of the world. This has further placed the British Museum as a world museum of material culture and art.
The new permanent exhibition which took place in 2003, and held in the King’s Library, was designed to celebrate the museum’s two hundred and fifty years of existence. It showcases the type of collections that were bought and donated between the eighteenth and nineteenth century and interprets most of the relevant issues that are of great concern to the early museum.
At present, museums are perceived in several ways. To some, it is a business center and places to store collections, an arena for exhibition, a citadel of learning, research centers, and cultural venues.
However, the future concept of museum is uncertain. This is due to some invisible antagonistic and various types of histories which are becoming more preeminent. It will be fair to state that museums are not the only public place where history is studied, but they offer an accessible platform for historical inquiry through their exhibitions, galleries, and varieties of collections.